Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

A tribute to a thorough but easygoing fellow

By Opinion Time of article published Jan 24, 2021

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By Pali Lehohla

SOUTH Africa is as old as Rwanda. When we celebrated the arrival of democracy, Rwanda was immersed in an intense genocide madness.

At that point, the South African flag was raised and many who had gone into exile streamed back home, whilst in Rwanda many were fleeing from the freshness of the genocide.

A young family, like many who married across the ethnic lines, found itself in this theatre of ethnic trauma. They ended up in Botswana.

Jean-Marie Hakizimana would later move from Botswana to South Africa in 1997 to join Statistics South Africa.

Hakizimana’s contribution in the data processing of Census ‘96 was memorable. His main quality was his broad mind that cut across any subject.

Hakizimana was always an inspiration to me and each of the censuses gave me a good kick and I was quite disappointed when on sound research though that the Statistics Council advised that we do not run a census in 2006.

Hakizimana took leaf from my description of how tough running 1996 and 2001 census were and how knee deep we were in crisis in both times. He said “In 1996 you dug your grave, in 2001 you fell into it and 2006 census will bury you.”

Whenever there was the census or big survey you would not miss the pulsating adrenalin in Hakizimana with his computer full of open screens of spreadsheets, maps and analytical formulae.

In the 2011 Census I gave Hakizimana the task of an officer at large and this gave him the latitude to do what irritated Udjo. Hakizimana thrived in this role.

My style was to demand a report first thing in the morning before six. After going through it there would be a discussion mostly with Hakizimana on what the emergent patterns were, what drove them and whether there were no blind sighting gaps.

I would the have a session with Luqmaan Omar, who was more systematic while Hakizimana was spontaneous.

In the last Census of 2011, a methodological error was committed in the post-enumeration survey and I appointed Yandi Mpetsheni - another firebrand at StatsSA - to get to the bottom of it.

The investigation put a lot of pressure on Hakizimana and Luqmaan. A day to finalising the results and a mere six days from releasing them, Hakizimana, with one hand on his head and the other on his heart approaches me and said he could not get the same results as there must have been a mistake somewhere.

The following day Hakizimana said there was nothing wrong with the data. He had used a wrong file.

Hakizimana left StatsSA for African Development Bank in 2016. He was one of the many former StatsSA staff members I met at the United Nations Statistics Commission in March 2020. On Thursday, Hakizimana succumbed to Covid-19.

May his soul rest in peace.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General and former head of Statistics South Africa

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